How to create winning teams

What makes a great team in business today? 

Adrienne Lawler, Broadcaster

According to the dictionary ‘Teamwork is the individual commitment to a group effort– It is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.’

For companies with a staff of permanent employees, addressing a constant and unchanging landscape, that sounds both laudable and challenging in equal measure. Imagine how much more challenging it is when you are trying to achieve constantly evolving outcomes using a group of people who regularly change jobs, have no long term commitment to the company and are working on projects that have never been done before?

Welcome to the world of Television! Neither the projects themselves nor the people responsible for making them necessarily remain constant throughout the life of the programmes’ creation – yet TV channels have to remain consistent in the programmes they deliver. Take Channel 4 for example, you always know that if you turn on the TV at 10 pm you’ll see a documentary entitled ‘the person that ate themselves’ or ‘I turned into a chicken nugget’. Whilst we might laugh about this, TV channels and programmes themselves have become brands and institutions in their own right where the consumer knows what they’ll get from that broadcaster and they can’t afford to disappoint. So, how do TV companies/broadcasters remain consistent in the content they produce when they are invariably working with an ever evolving employee landscape?

In reality, both the people and the project change regularly, with no unshakable template about what it will take to succeed in any one challenge. Instead, what they do have, is experienced heads with the will – and skill – to do the near impossible. That skillset also has to include the management and motivation of contract staff that are free to leave at any time and indeed, are not solely reliant on a single company to put bread on their table.

Guy Martin’s Wall of Death 2016

North One is a leading production company with a host of impressive programs in the can including Guy Martin’s various insane challenges, Travel Man’s adventures around the globe alongside surprising new technology on The Gadget Show. Much of their content comes out of Birmingham and is run by two Executive Producers with an impressive list of credits to their name; Ewan Kell & James Woodroffe. I had a chat with Ewan yesterday about what he believes is critical to creating and nurturing a group of talented individuals into a cohesive, performance-driven team.

‘It starts with recruiting the right people’ he says ‘We start from the basis of competence and then go on to hire people we like and believe will be easy to get on with.’ Like any good recipe then, it effectively starts by sourcing the right ingredients.

He goes on to explain ‘Sometimes the Production team is away for weeks at a time on shoots; eating, socialising and working together, away from home and their creature comforts so I like to be choosy about who I share that experience with!’ Effectively then, the first step is about sourcing the right ingredients for your teamwork recipe.

He adds ‘I happen to believe that if people are having fun, they will produce better output which, in turn, will appeal to viewers, be on budget and produce exciting TV which creates a win-win situation. I’m more than happy to see people having a laugh and a chat around the kettle because I know that they will deliver what is expected of them, on budget and on time.’

Don’t be mistaken into thinking it’s like some kind of Google ‘playroom’ because the backdrop to our interview is rows of desks with screens quietly humming away, as people work continuously on everything from transportation to health & safety, with the highly contentious issue of catering in between. Most of them have had lunch at their desks, eyes glued to screens, phones never far away.

Last year, North One made a hugely successful program that saw Guy Martin break speed records on the Wall of Death. I’m guessing that in the weeks before the bags were packed to go off site, chat round the water cooler was a little more animated then!

‘Yes’ says Ewan ‘but that’s also a great example of collaboration because in that case we worked with Dr Hugh Hunt, a leading authority in Engineering Dynamics & Vibration at Cambridge University. Apart from all the practical stuff that goes into making a TV program, what we know we’re really good at, is recognising and nurturing talent with different skillsets so they can go on to work in combination with each other.’

Cue our second learning. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just recruiting the right people and leaving them to it is enough. No matter how good they are, individuals need to be nurtured and supported in ways that work for both your business and their own personal objectives.

And it’s a formula that works across all industries according to the people behind The Happiness Index who say that individual happiness has an impact on staff retention; with studies showing that when companies focus on supporting their new people through the early days and weeks of their employment, staff are much more likely to stay for longer. Research from The Wynhurst Group have looked into ‘human capital’ within business and say up to 47% of employee turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, whether staff or contract. Ewan says ‘I’m proud to say we have an outstanding record in staff retention which fundamentally comes down to valuing and respecting every member of our team’.

As with most Production companies in TV, only about 5% are full time staff with everyone else working under a fixed term contract. And they love it! The flexibility to move from project to project, meet new people, create new experiences and challenge themselves to acquire more skills is all part of the appeal.

Imagine how that would affect your corporate life to know that 95% of your staff could up and leave at a moment’s notice? And for that matter, even join the competition. Although there are standard restrictions on sharing information once you leave much of it works on self-interest as well as trust. In the course of our conversation, I heard a number of things about upcoming programs which have yet to be signed off but self-preservation alone means I would never blurt them out in case it harmed them, or me.

The trend to become a freelancer is not just limited to the television industry. In the US, more and more Americans are quitting their jobs—or picking up side jobs—to work as freelancers. In fact, a third of American workers (54 million) have done freelance work in the past year, according to a 2015 independent survey by Freelancers Union and Upwork.

The plus side to being a “solopreneur” is clear: You get to decide your own work schedule, workload, and where to work from. And technology has made it even easier for freelancers to find gigs.

But surely that makes the idea of teamwork even harder to achieve I ask? ‘Not at all’ says Ewan ‘because effectively, it means that if you’re in our team, we’ve already recognised your talent and want to keep you coming back. There isn’t a single person who works for us who doesn’t give us their very best, every single day.’

‘The relaxed chat around the kettle moments I mentioned’ he goes on ‘are just a snapshot of a moment. Another time, you might see people working very long days, away from home, doing jobs they never imagined they’d do – and laughing as they pull off the impossible!’ and adds ‘I guess we do long days sometimes, but this almost assumes I condone and expect people to work massive hours. While it is very occasionally unavoidable on a big shoot, we try to avoid making people work more than 10 hour days whenever possible.’

So are there any lessons for more traditional companies in corporate life? In response, Ewan simply chuckles and asks ‘how would I know? I’ve never worked in that kind of environment in my life! But I do know that some things remain the same; recruiting the right people in the first place, nurturing & valuing their talent, then trusting them. Trust in the decision you’ve made and that the people you’re asking to do something WILL do it, and do it well. And finally, never forget that you’re as much a part of the team dynamic as they are so always question yourself too.’

Forbes, the flagship magazine for all things successful as well as wealthy, says there are 12 habits required of highly successful organisations. A key element supports the water cooler theory which they refer to as ‘get out of the way.’ They go on to explain that ‘by trying to enforce and police everything, you stifle collaboration within your organisation.’

Instead, Leaders should focus on understanding the difference between individual benefit v corporate benefit which is something I regularly talk about with the Boards I work with before spending thousands of pounds on the latest conference, intending to roll out another ‘great’ new idea which they hope to get enthusiastic buy-in for.

It’s temptingly easy to create big goals at the top level and then simply issue orders or directives you hope will filter down to the workforce – and then be either surprised or disappointed when the team doesn’t enthusiastically engage with them all and make it happen overnight.

In Ewan’s case, he says it means ‘If we’re on a shoot and everyone except me is dead busy, then I’ll put the brew on for them – I’ll often get stuck into the basic research for a show and muck in. My advice would be to never sit at the top and just issue orders’. He goes on to concede ‘sometimes you may have to do that, but whenever possible, get stuck in and play the team game.’

It seems clear to me that no one can be off their game when they’re planning a project that risks another human being’s life. Don’t just focus on the overall corporate value and benefit when trying to create an ethos of collaboration to a team. Understand that people care about how something will impact them on an individual basis. How will it make their jobs and lives easier? More fun? More interesting? Get that right and the rest will follow.

In which case, maybe Television land and the Corporate world aren’t so different after all.

No comments yet.

Leave A Comment